News, Culture & Society

PETER HITCHENS: One thing our rulers learned from war in Iraq? Make a better job of deceiving us

I had thought this would be a good week for gloating, 20 years after so many fools supported the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq or (in many ways more shamefully) failed to oppose it. Here’s what I said on this page almost exactly 20 years ago, refusing to drop my opposition to the war just because troops had gone in.

‘This is not a war for national survival in which we all have to pull together and hush our doubts or be subjugated… Patriotic British people who believe in fair play should be against this war.’

I pointed out that Anthony Blair ‘loathes Britain and has never knowingly supported a war fought, or an action taken, in British national interests. He is keen on this war because he likes the new multicultural, Left-wing, United States…’

And I warned, more truly than I knew: ‘As of Thursday night, centuries-old rules of war and diplomacy went into the dustbin. From now on, any big nation can invade another country because it does not like its government. If challenged, that big nation can turn round and say – and they will – that the USA did it to Iraq.’

AUS Marine covers the face of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s statue with the US flag in Baghdad’s al-Fardous square, 9 April 2003

I remain appalled by the behaviour of Blair and his propaganda chief Alastair Campbell, and astonished that both of them still feel able to appear in public, offering advice to the nation they misled into supporting this folly. And the BBC takes them both seriously. Plainly both should be living out their days in the penitential silence of a Trappist monastery deep in some remote mountain range. Instead, they are in our midst and they will just not shut up.

Is our hostility to Iran helping fuel the fanatics? 

I am glad that the Apple TV series Tehran, made in Israel and set in the Iranian capital, treats Iranians as humans rather than as the shrouded or turbaned monsters some people imagine them to be.

But is its plot, based on a supposed Iranian desire to become a nuclear power, founded on fact or alarmism? I remain unsure that our attitude towards Iran is wise.

The unending suspicion and hostility, in my view, only strengthen the Hezbollah-type fanatics of the Revolutionary Guard.

Sanctions hurt ordinary citizens, many of them pro-Western and anxious to be free, not the ruling elite. 

I am still grieved that so many of the fantasies which these men peddled were believed by people who should have had more sense. Why are we so easily gulled? I think the British and American governing classes learned only one thing from the episode – to make a better job of deceiving the public next time.

And I am in near-despair that the stupidity and brutality of Vladimir Putin have saved the warmongers of the West the trouble of fooling us into the large-scale long-term conflict they have been seeking for so long, ever since the Iraq invasion blew up in their faces. Useless now for me to explain how the actions of the West created the Ukraine crisis when it could so easily have been avoided. I’ve tried, and all it gets me is abuse. Why bother?

They have got their war, and, unless we can revive the dead arts of diplomacy, this one could run and run and run, deepening, widening, worsening.

Just as there were in 2003, there really are now people, high in American politics, who think that the USA is itself so good that it is entitled to make war on countries it disapproves of, directly or indirectly. 

There are people in Britain who are prepared to do their bidding. 

And there is also the ‘Military-Industrial Complex’, against which President Eisenhower (no peacenik Marxist) warned so fiercely in his astonishing farewell speech in January 1961.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair meets troops as he arrives in Basra for a visit to British soldiers in Iraq, 4 January 2004

British Prime Minister Tony Blair meets troops as he arrives in Basra for a visit to British soldiers in Iraq, 4 January 2004

It is astounding that this lifelong military man should have been the one to say it, but this is what he declared: ‘In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. 

‘The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

‘We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes… Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defence with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.’

When he referred to an ‘alert and knowledgeable citizenry’, he meant us. These events, in 2003 or now, are not inevitable. We have, whether we like it or not, a responsibility to scrutinise and, if necessary, oppose them.

Peter Hitchens on Beyond The Wall: East Germany, 1949-1990: See TV & Critics

Cometh the hour… to demand we stick to GMT

Just imagine if your boss had sent you a memo on Friday saying: ‘Be at work an hour early on Monday. This is an instruction, no exceptions allowed.’

You would think they had gone off their heads, and you would probably be right.

But when the Government declares that, this weekend, you should set all your clocks an hour ahead of real time, you obey. 

I admit that you probably don’t know, until the day arrives, which way time is supposed to go. But as you surface blearily into this Sunday morning, you will be realising that last night you should have advanced all your clocks by an hour. Unless you’re one of the rare people with busy Sundays, it won’t really hit you until tomorrow morning, when a wave of jet-lag will strike millions as they struggle to work earlier than they want to.

Neurology and Paediatrics Professor Beth Ann Malow, writing in the Scientific American, wants you to realise that the two clock changes are very much not the same.

When the clocks go back in October, people get up later and generally feel fine. The change you’re enduring today is the bad one, associated with an increase in heart attacks in a major survey of evidence in the US Journal Of Clinical Medicine. Jamming the clocks forward, in other smaller surveys, is also linked with fatigue, workplace injuries and general mortality.

Why do we do this? It’s thanks to various oddballs and fanatics of the Edwardian era, the sort of people who would otherwise have campaigned for other fads – world languages, such as Esperanto or Volapuk, fish-only diets or wool-next-the-skin. But they fixed on clock-twiddling instead.

By a terrible mischance, the weird idea of moving the clocks about, wisely rejected by lawmakers for years, was taken up by Germany’s imperial government in 1916, supposedly to boost the Teutonic war effort. British politicians, afraid this might be a secret weapon, followed suit and we have been stuck with it ever since, despite a distinct lack of evidence that it boosts production, saves electricity or does anything else useful.

Now at last the moment may be coming when governments around the world might be willing to give it up. But beware. Many of them want to fix the clocks in the jet-lag position, instead of on natural time. Resist this plan. Insist on good old Greenwich Mean Time, to which we shall all gratefully return in October. Put the clocks back just one more time, then leave them there.